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Onceuponatime,apairof researchersledagroup of study participants into a laboratory overlooking the ocean, gave them free unlimited coffee, and assigned them one simple task. The researchers spread out an assortment of magazine clippings and requested that participants assemble them into collages depicting what they thought of energy and its possible future.1 No cost-benefit analyses, no calculations, no research, just glue sticks and scissors. They went to work. Their resulting collages were telling—not for what they contained, but for what they didn’t. They didn’t dwell on energy-efficient lighting , walkable communities, or suburban sprawl. They didn’t address population, consumption, or capitalism. They instead pasted together images of wind turbines, solar cells, biofuels, and electric cars. When they couldn’t find clippings, they asked to sketch. Dams, tidal and wave-power systems, even animal power. They eagerly cobbled together fantastic totems to a gleaming 1. Solar Cells and Other Fairy Tales To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. –Mark Twain  Seductive Futures future of power production. As a society, we have done the same. The seductive tales of wind turbines, solar cells, and biofuels foster the impression that with a few technical upgrades, we might just sustain our current energy trajectories (or close to it) without consequence. Media and political coverage lull us into dreams of a clean energy future juxtaposed against a tumultuous past characterized by evil oil companies and the associated energy woes they propagated. Like most fairy tales, this productivist parable contains a tiny bit of truth. And a whole lot of fantasy. Act I I should warn you in advance; this book has a happy ending, but the joust in this first chapter might not. Even so, let’s first take a moment to consider the promising allure of solar cells. Throughout the diverse disciplines of business, politics, science, academia, and environmentalism, solar cells stand tall as a valuable technology that everyone agrees is worthy of advancement. We find plenty of support for solar cells voiced by: politicians, If we take on special interests, and make aggressive investments in clean and renewable energy, like Google’s done with solar here in Mountain View, then we can end our addiction to oil, create millions of jobs and save the planet in the bargain. –Barack Obama textbooks, Photovoltaic power generation is reliable, involves no moving parts, and the operation and maintenance costs are very low. The operation of a photovoltaic system is silent, and creates no atmospheric pollution. . . . Power can be generated where it is required without the need for transmission lines. . . . Other innovative solutions such as photovoltaic modules integrated in the fabric of buildings reduce the marginal cost of photovoltaic  Solar Cells and Other Fairy Tales energy to a minimum. The economic comparison with conventional energy sources is certain to receive a further boost as the environmental and social costs of power generation are included fully in the picture. –From the textbook, Solar Electricity environmentalists, Solar power is a proven and cost-effective alternative to fossil fuels and an important part of the solution to end global warming . The sun showers the earth with more usable energy in one minute than people use globally in one year. –Greenpeace and even oil companies, Solar solutions provide clean, renewable energy that save you money. –bp2 We ordinarily encounter the dissimilar views of these groups bound up in a tangle of conflict, but solar energy forms a smooth ground of commonality where environmentalists, corporations, politicians, and scientists can all agree. The notion of solar energy is flexible enough to allow diverse interest groups to take up solar energy for their own uses: corporations crown themselves with halos of solar cells to cast a green hue on their products , politicians evoke solar cells to garner votes, and scientists recognize solar cells as a promising well of research funding. It’s in everyone’s best interest to broadcast the advantages of solar energy. And they do. Here are the benefits they associate with solar photovoltaic technology: • co2 reduction: Even if solar cells are expensive now, they’re worth the cost to avoid the more severe dangers of climate change. • Simplicity: Once installed, solar panels are silent, reliable, and virtually maintenance free. • Cost: Solar costs are rapidly decreasing. • Economies of scale: Mass production of solar cells will lead to cheaper panels.  • Learning by doing: Experience gained from installing solar sys- tems will lead to further cost reductions. • Durability: Solar cells last an extremely long time. • Local...


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MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
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